Over the years, I have written a lot about the corpse under the bed. For those of you who do not know it, it is the story of motel guests who complain about a bad order that is determined to be a dead body rotting under the bed. What’s sad about the story is that it isn’t a legend. It happens all the time. Here’s one from just last year, Police Arrest 40-Year-Old Connected to Suspicious Death at Hickory Motel. And each and every story sounds pretty much the same, “One guest at the motel described smelling a foul odor Thursday, but it wasn’t until lunchtime Friday that police got the 911 call…”
To me, these stories are about a fundamental problem in our society. People don’t stuff dead Senators under motel room mattresses. They stuff people who they think no one will miss. It makes me think of Matthew 25:40, “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” Generally, the people who stuff bodies under beds are desperate and frightened people, but they are also serial killers. There is a larger indictment of society here.
Gawker reported last night, University of Chicago Student’s Body Found Decomposing in Dorm. It seems that 20-year-old Nicholas Barnes died in his dorm room over a week ago and just like the classic story, no one noticed until the smell of his rotting flesh started seeping out into the hall. This is, of course, very sad. A young man has died. But as a society, we should be ashamed that it took a bad smell to notice.
According to CBS News, Barnes was a Germanic Studies major who spent last fall in Austria. It quotes Dean of Students Susan Art, “Nick will be painfully missed. He was an excellent student, admired by faculty and peers alike.” I don’t doubt that this is true. And that makes it all the worse.
In our society, someone can be well liked with lots of what passes for friends now days. But when they disappear for a week, no one notices. The modern world allows us to have social connections that are a mile wide and an inch deep.
I used to just worry that as a society we were dividing into the worthy and the unworthy. But the death of Nicholas Barnes reminds me that our problems are much deeper than even that. We are becoming a society of individuals who only know how to interact in the most facile ways. Oh, you were sick? I just thought he decided to leave Twitter! I really question whether these are the kinds of lives we want to lead. But habit is a powerful thing. And we have developed some very bad habits.